Jeanette Kakareka: “We have to have downtime to recharge and not to burnout”
Jeanette Kakareka, an American-born young ballet dancer of the Bayerisches Staatsballett, previously danced in San Francisco Ballet and the English National Ballet. We talked to Jeannette about her life in Germany, free time activities, success and motivation.
You are a dancer and at the same time you conduct interviews with other ballet dancers. Why did you decide to do it? Doesn't it consume a lot of time?
Although I am fairly active on my public Instagram and do a certain amount of self-promotion, I'm not actually very comfortable with it! I find it a lot easier and more interesting to speak with other professionals about their experiences. It's not even very time consuming for me because I just do blog-related posts in my free time and I don't force myself to work on them when I don't feel up to it. It's just for fun.
How do you choose dancers for your interviews?
So far I've only spoken with people who are also friends because it allows me to ask more involved questions and then I also know that I'm putting forward dancers who are also really good people and great examples to others.
What else do you do in your free time? I know that you also have a blog about traveling and your dance life.
I blog about traveling, recipes, DIY (do-it-yourself) projects, home life, and yes also dancing. I know that my main audience is interested mostly in the ballet aspect, but I enjoy writing about other things too. I started the blog when I was off for 6 weeks for a knee sprain, so in the beginning it was just another hobby to have away from ballet. Aside from the blog, my boyfriend and I love watching movies and doing things around the house. We have a British Shorthair cat named Moqi who is turning three years old this May. I'm also taking a course with Peking University to prepare for the Level 2 HSK because I was learning Chinese casually for about four years, but I'm really focusing on it now. I just recently took my Level 1 exam.
Jeanette with her boyfriend Jinhao Zhang, first soloist of the Bayerisches Staatsballett, in Giselle. Photo by Brian Slater.
Do you keep a diet?
No I don't, and besides not keeping a diet I'm also very aware of the responsibility I have using my social media platforms to promote positivity. I find it a shame when dancers irresponsibly glorify unhealthy eating habits that can affect their followers, especially the young ones. I do, however, enjoy reading and coming up with creative recipes when I'm in the kitchen. I try to cook from scratch as much as possible.
You have already worked in the USA, Great Britain and Germany. How are these countries different in terms of ballet?
In the US the focus I think is a little more on movement and traveling while you're dancing. In the UK I was in a touring company so we didn't have a theatre we consistently performed at, so straight away that was a big difference from my time as a trainee in San Francisco Ballet. Since being in this company here in Munich I feel that there's obviously a more Russian influence with Igor Zelensky now being the director. There's also a huge difference in approach since we put on over 10 programs a season and the shows very spread out. There's not usually a "run" of anything like there is in a typical US company or there was at English National Ballet in the UK. It can be really hard mentally and physically to keep switching like that, but it's also stimulating. I've gotten to perform so many new ballets here already, it's been a whirlwind at times!
Was it difficult for you to move from country to country? What is it like to be a foreigner in Germany? Do you speak German?
It is difficult in a way, I feel like I don't know how anything works in any country now! I think it's also really good for people to live as a "foreigner" for once in their life. I feel like I have a better understanding and empathy for people from different backgrounds. And for me, most importantly I met my boyfriend! And no, sadly I do not speak German. It would make it a lot easier because it's not as international in Bavaria, but my priority is learning Chinese for now.
Jeanette in The Nutcracker. Photo by Wilfried Hösl.
What ballet pieces are your favourite ones? What would you like to dance? What is the latest production you fell in love with? Who are your favourite choreographers?
This year we premiered Jewels which was a really big deal for me and a career highlight. I performed as one of the principal couples in Emeralds on opening night, and I really fell in love with the part. The solo is very challenging because it's 4 minutes of straight dancing, but it's also really fun and I can put my American training to use! The pas de deux is the infamous "walking pas de deux" and it's very beautiful but also challenging in a different way since I'm walking on pointe for most of it. There's something really magical and classic about all three movements in Jewels so I'm thankful to have gotten this opportunity. And as an American it was a real milestone! In the future I'd most like to tackle some more dramatic acting roles (such as Tatiana in Onegin or Juliet), and I hope to get to dance Odette/Odile Swan Lake someday. For me, I think Swan Lake is a lot more than meets the eye and requires just as much internal reflection as it does technical perfection.
Do you believe that success defines us? Do you consider yourself successful?
I guess it depends on what your idea of success is. To me, being generally healthy and having loved ones is successful. So yes, I am lucky.
For sportsmen it is usually difficult to find motivation after winning their first medals. What about ballerinas? Are you motivated all the time? Do you consider every new ballet a new challenge?
It's not possible to be truly motivated always as a dancer. As humans we have to have downtime so we can recharge and not burnout. I find I'm most motivated when I have things going on outside of ballet that also fulfill me so that I can give more attention when I'm in the studio or onstage. And I cannot honestly say that *every* new ballet is a challenge, but I do think there is always something to be learned.
Jeanette in Raymonda. Photo by Serghei Gherciu.
Is it true that dancers are tired of dancing one and the same ballet for a long time?
I think it's very normal! Dancers need to feel stimulated--this is one reason for my move to Bayerisches Staatsballett last season. I think it's dangerous to fall into routines for too long, especially since our careers are so short. But as I said, there's always something to learn.
What would you recommend a person who wants to start ballet professionally?
For many, they have to decide this as their goal very young. For me I was about 12 years old. I think it's really tough at that age to comprehend what a big life decision it is to make a career in ballet, but if a dancer has the self-discipline and ability to adapt and grow as they train they'll be able to stick with it. But I really do think self-discipline and ability to motivate yourself are some of the key traits to making it. It can be a really difficult and winding road, but ballet can also bring many blessings to your life in often unexpected
Jeanette Kakareka in Jewels